Mastering(s) and mastering processes analog/vinyl/digital

As a contribution to this new main thread, I’m starting this sub thread to share and gather some information and opinions about mastering processes digital and analog and maybe also some good examples in terms of available masterings.

I learned a lot recently. Initially it started with an answer from Ted when at my very beginning here, while not having a general and only vinyl preference but also cherishing digital, I posted my experience when comparing digital to vinyl (with few more exceptions mostly more or less pro vinyl). I paid much attention to selecting recordings that were mastered in parallel for vinyl and SACD by the same several well rewarded mastering engineers.
(Besides this, in many cases vinyl to me sounded superior in case of better and different masterings than available on digital media, but that’s not the topic here, here I took care of choosing the same masterings.)

At this time Ted already mentioned, although choosing same masterings, I possibly still compare masterings, not concepts. I thought I could not have paid more attention to selecting the least mastering differences possible. Which was true. But what I didn’t know at the time was, that even then, there seem to be noticeable sound quality differences in the mastering and production processes for vinyl in comparison to those for digital media (pro vinyl, in spite of its other limitations). This and other aspects were made clear in an interview Paul made with mastering legend Bernie Grundman. You can listen to it here: Start at about 19 min for that matter if you don’t want to hear the whole thing.

Another mastering legend, Steve Hoffman, (only marginally) mentioned such differences, too (and a general tendency to vinyl preference) within this thread ( ) and several others within his forum like on this page ( ) or on this etc. etc. ( ), while within this thread he compared master to tape, SACD, Vinyl and CD with similar results ( ).

Kevin Gray, another mastering legend, besides having been involved together with Steve Hoffman in above mentioned and many other such masterings for SACD, CD and vinyl commented to myself, that he usually tries to surpass SACD masterings (especially when he only does the vinyl part) with his vinyl masterings and is aware, such comparisons are done.

Greg Calbi and others at Sterling sound are some, who also provide among the best masterings available for SACD and vinyl as they reside in neighborhood of the master vaults. Many masterings I compared SACD/vinyl. What’s written on their page also points to a certain special aspect of vinyl mastering processes ( ).

When searching for some opinions of two other of the best mastering engineers, Doug Sax and Bob Ludwig, who also mastered for digital as well as vinyl, I didn’t find suited interviews, instead a silly, skin-deep and slightly embarrassing performance pro vinyl together with Michael Fremer ( ) with Fremer showing how to put a record out of its sleeve. Only the fact that they participated in such an event and to confirmed such skin-deep opinions pro vinyl made me think, they probably have the same preference.

From an interview I know a clear preference for vinyl mastering from the boss of Acousence and few less well known, who do digital and analog, too.
Labels like 2xHD intentionally use lots of analog processes for their hires digital media to get best results. (which to me doesn’t mean, they make the best digital recordings).

All in all it seems nearly every one of the famous engineers I know, who seriously do both, mastering for vinyl and digital, has a certain preference for vinyl and probably a similar opinion about the influencing aspects of the analog and vinyl mastering process, while and in spite of knowing vinyl’s limitations.

Certainly among digital only mastering engineers, but probably also among those seriously doing both, there will be further different and more differentiated opinions on that. Just what I always saw as a pure personal preference, seems to have more background aside of and prior to the playback device of a Streamer/DAC/Record player.

Would be happy if others find more info about this topic or opinions of professionals who master both with similar effort and dedication. I think it’s less interesting to see typical one-sided opinions of those who have singular interests or experiences.

Proconditioned both vinyl and digital player are on quite the same quality level (which to me means a much more expensive vinyl setup), here some examples which I would name as Engineers/Mastering studios/Labels, which when they do both analog and digital media from the same recording by the same engineer, produce a vinyl mastering, that sounds more or less always better than the SACD/hires version by clearly more than the typical vinyl artifacts (which are a matter of taste I’d say).

Bernie Grundman & fellows / ORG / ORG Music / Classic Records

Sterling sound & fellows

Doug Sax RIP

Kevin Gray/Cohearent

Steve Hoffman

Sheffield/The mastering lab/Doug Sax

Stand Ricker RIP (not fully sure in his case if he did the digital versions personally, too)

Analogue productions and Acoustech generally (nearly all, as all done by great engineers)

Gateway mastering/Bob Ludwig

Masterdisk/Bob Ludwig




Reference Recordings (the old analog recordings only)

MFSL new Gain2 Ultra analog (slightly better). Old MFSL can be the opposite

First impression music (FIM)



Another even more extreme case is: When vinyl masterings are done by above folks (and some other vinyl reissuing labels), and digital versions are available only by their labels standard engineers, vinyl is better by far hands down anyway in my experience.

Then IMO there are tons of digital/vinyl versions (much of what’s reissued today), which just differ by typical digital/vinyl artifacts, but sound extremely close.

Then there certainly are many high class digital albums, which are not available as vinyl and sound fantastic and as good as it can get (2L, Bluecoast, Northstar, Yarlung, Sound liaison etc.), also some with a less “audiophile” status like some Pentatone, most CIC/Aparte etc. and certainly many just “normal” digital albums.

Tons of other great albums only available in digital format are certainly essential for music lovers, too and there are also some, which only exist digitally as remastered version (i.e. Esoteric) and often sound better than their vinyl originals.

I personally just can say all in all I don’t know of many albums/labels, where I’d clearly prefer the digital version for sound reasons if both formats exist (except if extreme macro dynamics, challenging deep bass performance or distortion combined with strong one channel dynamics exceed the ability to be placed on vinyl wisely). In my experience this doesn’t play a major role too often (depending on genre)… very rarely in Jazz, here and there in Pop/Rock/HipHop but more often in classical full scale music.

When I occasionally find interesting posts or publications of mastering engineers on that topic, I continue to post here for your info.

I don’t pay attention to normal people’s opinions in different forums, but just use information and opinions of professional people. Even if they might be colored, too, I think it’s more relevant and interesting.

So here we go with few new findings:


And here I found a rarer case of an article pro CD mastering:

This time my first case when a digital mastering of an analog source sounds in several aspects better than the analog done by in this case even by B.Grundman, which usually is a guarantee for the opposite:

I just compared Bill Evans/Another time by Resonance Records Redbook file to the vinyl remastered by Grundman. Vinyl in this case has little richer harmonics, but the digital mastering has clearly more contour in bass, is more transparent sounding and a little fresher in highs. Some might still prefer the vinyl here for its characteristic in this example, but the redbook file extracts clearly more information and better reveals the attack and transients of the instruments played, while both still sound great. Try this special case if you have the different media, it doesn’t happen often…I furthermore compared the Bill Evans/Some other time Grundmann vinyl on Resonance Recordings to the 2xHD DSD files and to the original Resonance Records hires files and the difference was not like that. They were quite similar.

That timing/pace in such comparisons never is a real issue for the DS, is probably its most valuable and admirable strength of all it has.

Just two new experiences I came across:

In my current setup I like the SACD masterings of recordings of the nice japanese label 88‘s better than their LP‘s because the LP‘s seem to have a recessed top end. This is unfortunate as 88‘s has among the best quality covers I experienced.

An interesting exploration was the definition of „mastering“ the famous Bauer studios (producing i.e. ECM recordings) use. Among their explanations is the following sentence I wouldn’t have expected as explanation of „mastering“.

„…as well as adding some warmth in the sound, which may be missing due to digital recording and mixing“

With current vinyl masterings (not so ECM) of digital sources I sometimes have a bad experience, when the studio tries to create a dull sound that should reflect „vinyl warmth“.

jazznut said

This time my first case when a digital mastering of an analog source sounds in several aspects better than the analog done by in this case even by B.Grundman, which usually is a guarantee for the opposite:

I just compared Bill Evans/Another time by Resonance Records Redbook file to the vinyl remastered by Grundman. Vinyl in this case has little richer harmonics, but the digital mastering has clearly more contour in bass, is more transparent sounding and a little fresher in highs. Some might still prefer the vinyl here for its characteristic in this example, but the redbook file extracts clearly more information and better reveals the attack and transients of the instruments played, while both still sound great. Try this special case if you have the different media, it doesn’t happen often…I furthermore compared the Bill Evans/Some other time Grundmann vinyl on Resonance Recordings to the 2xHD DSD files and to the original Resonance Records hires files and the difference was not like that. They were quite similar.

That timing/pace in such comparisons never is a real issue for the DS, is probably its most valuable and admirable strength of all it has.

So @jazznut, you really have the vinyl of both Another Time, and Some Other Time (my new favorite recording)?? Damn. Those are pretty hard to get! I have only heard the DSD versions which are pretty fantastic. I would love to make those comparisons in my own system! Since you like the digital files so much, you wouldn’t have a problem selling one, or both, of them to me, would you?? Not really joking here!

Yes I have them (and didn’t know they’re sold out already). But as I said only the „Another time“ sounded worse to me than the digital file (which is really rare and the first case for a Grundman mastering), the „Some other time“ sounds fine. The music is great, but both are not the really very best recordings, so usually this means, that the usual vinyl mastering advantages of such a Grundman release are not really overwhelmingly apparent.

I’m buying vinyl very selectively in the meantime, but usually all masterings of those great mastering studios are superior to the digital files imo. And sorry, but I don’t sell these, not even the slightly worse one :wink: Things could change with the next cartridge…

jazznut said

I’m buying vinyl very selectively in the meantime

That makes one of us. I’m buying vinyl these days like an alcoholic does shots of bourbon! Is there a 12 step program, I wonder??

Would be interesting to know what’s your main motive to buy vinyl as a first choice…love for the physical product? …you like the sound better throughout in your system? … love for the vinyl playing process? …or all that?

Do you buy digital only for the albums not available as vinyl?


I compared Bill Evans/Another time once more, as there are also different masterings on digital.

What I have is:

the Resonance 16/44 file

the 2xHD DSD

the Resonance LP

The Resonance LP has the nicest overall balance and relaxed timing, but slightly recessed highs (a bit too laid back for me, just the opposite as vinyl usually sounds in such masterings)

The Resonance 16/44 file has same soundstage, a fresher sound with more refined sounding cymbals, but could sound a little forward in highs depending on one’s setup

The 2xHD DSD has a different soundstage (little more mid-orientated), an overall balance more like the LP and highs just between the LP and the Resonance 16/44 file

So maybe you even like the LP best depending on your setup, for me it’s really hard to decide after this more intensive check…they all sound different and each has its merits. As the tracks also have different tonality on this recording, the one or other track sound best on the one or other mastering.

jazznut said

Would be interesting to know what’s your main motive to buy vinyl as a first choice…love for the physical product? …you like the sound better throughout in your system? … love for the vinyl playing process? …or all that?

Do you buy digital only for the albums not available as vinyl?

I would say I primarily like the sound of vinyl, but not always. More times than not I prefer vinyl and I’d like to think part of that has to do with my vinyl rig, which I’m very pleased with (see signature). That’s not to say my digital setup is weak. It’s not. I just love the overall sound and tempo of vinyl on my system. It’s also pretty evident to others who listen to my system. It’s funny, I find the best vinyl rigs have digital sounding aspects (lower noise floor, flat and extended frequency response, accurate and non-wavering pace, rapid transients) and the best digital systems are more analog (even tone, solid bass, luscious mids, smooth highs, etc). I find the DS DAC approaches many of the best attributes of vinyl, especially with Red Cloud. Still, I tend to prefer vinyl unless the digital strikingly outperforms it. My main digital consumption is Tidal streaming and hi-res if not available on Tidal or Vinyl, as was the case with Bill Evans Some Other Time (although I would have bought it even if it was available in Tidal).

I also do love the process; taking care of records, handling them, sitting down to listen an LP at a time. It relaxes me in a way that digital doesn’t. I also really love the fact that I am in a small way helping the artist out in buying them. They actually make money on vinyl. So does the vinyl pressing plant. So does the record shop who sells them. And so on. Not so much with streaming. Since I don’t buy CDs anymore, I don’t really consider them as a viable alternative. For me. Finally, I love collecting records. I actually have a tangible product that is worth something in the end, even if not a great investment. Actually, according to Discogs, I probably am about even money in terms of what I have paid into vinyl and what it is worth, according to Discogs. That is no doubt helped by my MoFo Ultradiscs. Still, most discs are holding value well and several are appreciating. Try that with CDs!!

Thanks for your explanation! We have quite some experiences in common, i.e. that the best vinyl setups are those which are strong in digital‘s strengths and vice versa and that timing of vinyl is special. In my experience the kind of lively timing that was long missing from digital was available with the DS Dac”s appearance, but there’s a kind of relaxed”ness in vinyl playback timing independent of any tonality or other quality aspects, that is unique, solely positive and imo favorable as well as overall harmonics and top end quality. I think this relaxedness in timing can be achieved by further digital improvements as to me it strongly improved already with using the bridge instead of an unoptimized USB setup as well as authority and liveliness improved with Redcloud.

On the other hand bass accuracy as well as quality and accuracy in soundstaging and stable imaging of the DS in a revealing setup needs really a lot of effort to be matched by vinyl. But at the end an overall preference depends on what is most important for the listener. Most of us try to have it all :wink:

What I personally also cherish very much from digital is guaranteed undistorted dynamics from demanding piano, trumpets etc. and demanding bass-heavy recordings as well as always clean “s” sounds and maximum macro dynamics. Sure with a really good vinyl rig this can be improved to just stay really evident for about 10-20% of recordings.

I like both for what they are, but it’s interesting that most who really listen to both in high quality still tend to prefer vinyl or are neutral, while it seems those who strictly prefer digital didn’t play around with vinyl, compare a lot or optimize both setups much at all, their opinion often relates to quite singular experiences or comes more from a theoretical standpoint.

I did a lot to make both sound optimal (which meant they sound not that much different anymore on average), that’s why I’m having a more or less balanced opinion.

I find it interesting that you mention how hard it is to optimize bass accuracy and quality with vinyl compared to digital. I find that bass in my vinyl setup is preferable to digital to my ear, generally speaking. And I don’t think that it has any thing to do with different EQ from one to the other, either. I measure FR of vinyl system with Feickert Adjust+ test disc and it’s pretty ruler-flat with 3 dB or so difference from 20-20,000 Hz. It’s pretty hard to beat that number in vinyl, honestly. So that means that there’s something else at play here WRT bass sounding more full that digital. I sometimes wonder if one thing that might be at play here is “shooting for the middle”, for lack of a better term. What I mean is that a vinyl mastering engineer has to make conscious choices for how he/she wants a record to sound. Now, does he assume that the vast majority or turntables have sub-par isolation with resonant plinths, noisy platters and non-isolated motors? And if that is the case, does the engineer assume that there will be some bass “bleed” from those sub-optimal conditions? In my experience, optimizing all of those elements makes for more full and accurate bass. Then will a recording that is “shooting for the middle” in terms of bass capability be fairly hot, as it were, in overall bass compared to how the engineer intended? Throw on a good quality turntable mat and you could really overdo it, in that situation. I have certain recordings where the bass is a little hotter than I’d like, honestly, and I wonder if that’s the reason. More than one friend has commented on how full and impactful the bass is with vinyl in my system. I do know that dynamic range is often limited so that the average tonearm and mediocre alignment can track the groove. It stands to reason that bass, and treble for that matter, might be tuned for the average table, and not an audiophile one. Is this, in fact, the case?

I must agree with you that piano, for the most part, is superior on digital, sadly. For example, I rarely play my box set of Brad Mehldau "“10 Years Solo Live” on vinyl. First of all, it’s 16 discs and finding the one you want can be a hassle, so there’s that. But also, the piano just sounds more solid in the Directstream. It’s not huge, but it’s there. Usually.

I also agree about how people with good vinyl and digital rigs often play vinyl as much, or more, while the guy without a turntable might tell some story about how bad his uncle’s old turntable sounds compared to his digital rig. Meanwhile, he hasn’t actually spun a record in the last 20 years, if ever! Either that, or he quotes the dynamic range theoretical limits of CDs and vinyl or says how distracting clicks and pops are! (cough, cough, Paul, cough, cough) 4_gif21_gif

I truly wish I could check out your setup myself so I could compare to mine! That actually gives me an idea. Maybe @adminpaul should do a video segment whereby people show off their gear in their homes and talk about their setups! That would be cool to see. Plus it would be nice to put a (pesudo)name with the face. Just a thought…

Thanks for your feedback, but now we have a difference in two points in what we mean, maybe you misunderstood me:

Regarding bass performance I don’t speak of frequency alignment, but of undistorted, controlled bass. IMO bass from vinyl can’t be correct per se (which doesn’t mean it can’t sound better to someone or in someone’s environment). Bass from vinyl is affected from cutting limitations and acoustic noise resonances, which can only be controlled by severe isolation and/or mass or other concepts of turntables…but not fully. My goal always was to get bass from vinyl no thicker than from digital, then I knew it was probably near optimum (as long as I count the bass from digital as firm yet colorful and naturally resonating). And indeed the better a turntable get’s, the tighter and more controlled the bass gets. This is why imo it takes a lot of money and effort in isolation to make vinyl comparable in digital’s strengths. That’s why I laugh when someone’s comparing digital to a turntable standing in a shelf or normal rack, that’s apples/oranges and like comparing a turntable to an mp3 file played from the DS DAC…

I also don’t think vinyl mastering engineers compensate bass for suboptimal turntables, but it’s possible imo, that they compensate for the abilities of vinyl playback, which can lead to surprisingly great results at the end.

Regarding Piano, I don’t prefer Piano (or trumpet) from digital generally, just in cases of hard hitting piano notes on hot cut records (i.e. in one channel only) I hate it to hear mechanical distortion, that’s when I prefer digital. Fortunately that occurs only in rare cases (also depending on the trackability of the cartridge/arm/table combination), but to me the main limitations of vinyl are resonance sensitivity, inner groove distortion and trackability of strong out of center dynamics. As with the absolute dynamic range subject, this fortunately plays a role only for maybe 10-20% of recordings which make use of it, for the rest we can enjoy vinyl’s positive sides…

I found an interesting short conversation of Steve Hoffman about when dynamic compression is needed for vinyl mastering of classical recordings. To be honest I didn’t think it’s so little.

It was also new for me he was consulting Yarlung and won a Grammy with them.


Since long time I came across another interesting statement of Steve Hoffman once more.
We all know there are different opinions about wether rebook CD is more than audio enthusiasts ever need or if it’s rather limited. Here’s Hoffman’s point of view.
Some might call him a vinyl/analog orientated person (but if one follows frequently, he seems to have a very balanced opinion), anyhow, he’s a mastering guru and one of very few industry-close guys who dare to speak openly about such topics. And I think there are very few people with his experience, who not rarely discuss such matters with lots of passion for the one or other opinion (but without having much clue)

Knowing how good well done new digital masterings can sound, I always wonder again that so many historic recordings sound so much worse as digital masterings. I just recently compared this hires release ( with the moderately priced 180g Rhino vinyl. You wouldn’t play the hires for a minute if you don’t have to. I really don’t get why such loads of the back catalog is mastered so clearly inferior digitally. Exceptional DAC‘s as they exist are wasted to play such files.

For all who are still interested in mastering topics I collected once again a few statements out of a thread of Steve Hoffman affecting the following matters:

Living Stereo Originals vs. Classic Records reissues

Why a mastertape can sound worse than a mastered source or an LP (or a CD)

Why the mastering quirks connected with vinyl mastering and cutting processes can much improve sound compared to a more straight transfer


I think it’s important to mention, that the western/scully system was a really „influencing (sound) and in some respects even clearly limiting“ one, not a „quite neutral“ vinyl cutting system. Anyhow interesting that some recordings just come to shine with it and don’t without.

Furthermore those posts explain to me why Grundman masterings, much more than others, sound from way too bright to just right. It seems it’s because he tends to leave the tonality straight like the recording was done (which can be, but doesn’t have to be a good thing most of the time).

Steve Hoffman:

Some of those RCA Living Stereo’s are just amazing sounding; better than the master tapes if you can believe it!

I could replicate that RCA sound, yes. I figured out how to do it. Problem is, no one wants that sound anymore!

I don’t fault CLASSIC’s reissues except in the fact that some are unnecessarily cold sounding; sometimes a three-track original tape is strictly a WORK-PART and is not meant to be anything else. Dynamic range increase is not always the last word; tonality is the key for me; dynamics and sound-staging come second.

Some (edit: commercial reel to reel tapes) sound quite nice, yes. But some (and just some), since they skip that crucial WESTREX/SCULLY cutting lathe “extra” boost, don’t have quite the power of the LP version. Others do however…

I always say it’s a happy accident that the good ones sound so wonderful. I mean, the cutting engineers at RCA used RCA 15" speakers, no tweeter, not even in a speaker box for some of them. Just a turn of the dice!

The Scully/Westrex system had a quirk: It turned everything at 8k totally out of phase (something the Neumann system fixed). With the right mixdown tape, this plus the “tube lag” just made a bunch of the LSC’s shine, rich with body and ambiance that is NOT ON THE MASTER TAPES, NOR THE THREE-TRACK WORK PARTS!

The Scully system went up to 15k or higher, but I’ve heard such BAD LSC cuttings, using the same equipment as the GOOD cuttings that I think it was truly operator Dependant!

So Sayeth Steve


Bernie G. is a famous mastering engineer with a worldwide reputation. That is probably the reason that Classic hired him to do all of their LP reissues.

I used to think he was the greatest thing since sliced bread (in the early 1980’s). Then, I upgraded my vinyl playback system. Oops! His stuff was reveled as too bright, too thin.

Sometimes I wish I never upgraded my system, I would still have all of my MoFi LP’s and probably collect the Classic reissues!


Thanks for the list. Please note what I said about the Classic RCA reissues in post #23:

“I don’t fault CLASSIC’s reissues except in the fact that some are unnecessarily cold sounding; sometimes a three-track original tape is strictly a WORK-PART and is not meant to be anything else. Dynamic range increase is not always the last word; tonality is the key for me; dynamics and sound-staging come second.”

The term “Work Part” denotes something the engineer works with to make a final master mix. In other words, the work part can sound unfinished on it’s own. Or, it can sound wonderful. In the case of RCA, the magic starts when the work part (the multi-track tape) is “reduced” to a two-track tape, in other words, MIXED. During mixing, some of that RCA magic is added. Cutting on the Scully/Westrex lathe completes the magic (in some cases.)

Since Classic bypasses the mixed master and goes back to the work part, (which for the most part sound cold to me) even a straight transfer is bound to disappoint. There are certain mastering tricks that can be used to make a cold sounding three-track tape sound lifelike, warm and, er, finished. I did it for the Nat King Cole’s and Peggy Lee’s, etc. Bernie’s mastering work strays toward an aggressive sound to begin with so he wouldn’t be expected to make a “Breath Of Life” LP when the “Breath” wasn’t there to begin with.

How does Bernie achieve his sound? Years of trial and error I guess.

We both use the same mastering tools. He makes them do one thing and I make them do the opposite. There is no right or wrong way. If you poll 5,000 people and ask them which “sound” they like better, Bernie’s or mine, I bet most will say Bernie’s.

Such is life!

For all who know Northstar Recordings and Turtle Records, both with productions of the fabulous Bert van der Wolf with his gread sound quality recordings, here a statement about vinyl that surprised me, as they are at the forefront of PCM and DSD recordings, so I suspected them strongly in the digital mind set:

You can read here:

"…The CD version of it was released in September 2006, and did hit the album charts in Holland at nr 8. The album has been received with great enthusiasm, and many positive reviews have been written on it, with also a lot of emphasis on the ‘special’ acoustic recording approach that we took for this wonderful album. Exactly 1 year later, Turtle Records had decided to release the most fitting songs of the album on Vinyl. The original recordings, made in the ultra high resolution DXD format, are of such quality and delicate resolution, that a release other than on cd was inevitable. As many know the merits of vinyl, in combination with the state of the art turntables that are available these days, go far beyond those of CD, and the musical atmosphere of the original masters, is reproduced more effective on this medium.

We don’t claim it to be better on all aspects, but somehow the message of the songs, and their musical substance is transferred more accurately and direct than from CD."

Every now and then I’m updating this thread when I find interesting information around mastering digital/vinyl. This time it’s interesting in two ways, first, because it’s again second hand (through mine) information of a pro about compression habits or not for vinyl mastering/cutting and second, because the given example is a well known and liked audiophile Mahler symphony work here (the San Francisco Symphony/Tilson Thomas cycle).

We read here and there, that even experienced audiophiles and pro’s spread the opinion that all or most vinyl masterings/cuttings use compression to make even common dynamics trackable. Mostly such statements are not differentiated between mass and audiophile productions and not even between more or less dynamic recordings or genres, but simply generalized for the purpose of whatever.

Fact is: not any dynamic can be cut/tracked to/from vinyl, not any record player (mass market/high end) tracks equally well and there are multiple ways to enhance tracking (wider groove cutting/thicker vinyl, less inner groove cutting, 45RPM pressings, skill of the cutter etc.). And: bass signals (if hard towards one channel) have to be centered below a certain frequency range to avoid non-fill of vinyl pressings.

After I posted feedbacks of the mastering gurus Bernie Grundman and Steve Hoffman regarding this matter a few times already (who more or less generally expressed that they hardly ever use limiting or compression in their vinyl masterings for dynamic range reasons with rare exceptions given or unless it serves a positive sound quality purpose), I recently had the idea to also ask a third big mastering legend, Kevin Gray, who mastered various of our favorite SACD and vinyl albums about this.

Kevin Gray came into my mind as I listened to my Mahler SFS Symphony box set, which, when I do, I often later compare with the respective SACD version I also own. Also because I knew from previous correspondence with Kevin, what an open and helpful person he is.
Side note: with more or less identical digital masterings my digital and vinyl sound is in technical and tonal characteristics extremely similar (latest since Snowmass), no generally more/less charming or harsh/technical sound from either side.

The SFS vinyl box Kevin Gray mastered, together with especially one other audiophile classical box set he didn’t master (Järvi Beethoven Box) always was THE perfect example for me where vinyl sounded better than the SACD version. The SFS vinyl box, to make it short, in my setup has more impact, a different but better integrated/homogenous soundstage and especially a much nicer string sound in the upper and lower range, making the whole string sound more organic and natural. This is no general difference between vinyl and digital in my setup to this extent. Unfortunately this vinyl box set was quite expensive and afaik is meanwhile out of print, but I recommend it to anyone with a high quality vinyl rig if one can still grab it.

So the idea for my question, if/where compression is used for vinyl cutting came after I watched one of Paul’s videos where he mentioned his and Arnie’s love for this Mahler cycle and it’s tremendous dynamics. I also love it for it’s sound, although it’s not necessarily my first but still a top choice of interpretation.

What could be more difficult to put on vinyl than this symphony cycle, which is cut only on 33RPM and quite normal to the inner grooves, which has it’s most dynamic parts as usual for a symphony at the end towards the critical inner grooves? My guess was, if this was cut without compression, there’d be little other material that needs it (with usual rare exceptions).

Furthermore, Reference Recordings, also well known for their extremely dynamic and high quality classical recordings used as reference also by many of us meanwhile make vinyl again. As they’d also be a great example in case their symphony cuttings were done without compression I further down pasted a link to their statement, too.

So before I make Kevin’s answers available I shortly summarize the essence out of his and Reference Recordings statements:

  • Kevin Gray didn’t use any compression on the SFS Mahler box set, just minor gain riding to lift (not cut peaks) some really soft passages out of the noise

  • He never limits/compresses Jazz or Classical stuff

  • As a precaution especially for Pop/Rock stuff on mass market pressings he very occasionally uses limiting/compression to make records trackable on less high end equipment

  • To avoid non-fill of vinyl pressings, in case bass signals are strong in one channel, Kevin Gray often uses a low frequency blend of bass signals below 70Hz with minimal audible difference as mostly in the non localizable range

  • Reference Recordings doesn’t use compression, equalization or any unnecessary cirquitry in their vinyl cutting system.

Out of the corresponding feedbacks of the various mastering gurus I conclude that probably nearly no audiophile vinyl pressing uses compression and compression is probably even rarely used in todays more normal vinyl pressings if done by good mastering engineers (except for Pop/Rock/Hip Hop albums that are part of the loudness war and often even more compressed on digital media).

For me I personally therefore have to categorize any statement of people generalizing compression in connection with vinyl and using it as a deprecative argument in audiophile orientated discussions as their own dogma or agenda or intentional polarizing or lack of knowledge. Most positively expressed (as not all is wrong) this means little care taken and a minor grade of differentiation as long as it fits in one’s argumentation. At least I know little better sources for proper answers than experienced mastering engineers

Here the background info combined out of a few mails regarding the SFS vinyl box set and compression in general:

Hi Steve,

That was one of the most challenging things I ever cut! In all honesty there was absolutely NO compression. We did however do some slight gain riding on just a couple symphonies, and after all these years I dont remember which. I seem to recall the 5th was one. We did a few long slow rides just to get a couple really soft things up in level. We didnt “drop” any peaks. Acetates were sent to the orchestra directors telling them what I had done, but not telling them where. They said “Whatever you did is just fine.”
I actually started out by cutting some of the loudest crescendos to see how hot we could cut and still track it. They played the refs on several systems and from that determined how far we could push things. I’ll never forget when I listened to a test pressing of the 8th. The ending made the hair on the back of my neck stand up! I’m very proud of that set. RTI also did a fine job.
It is very wide dynamic range, but couldnt put number on it, but as i said with only a couple small exceptions is the same as the SACDs.
I appreciate your interest.

… I never limit jazz or classical stuff. I’m so turned off by today’s compression just to make everything sound the same volume on itunes.
I do often use a low frequency blend below 70hz. Not only does it make stuff track better, it also makes the record easier to press. Non-fill on vinyl is caused by the vinyl not filling on vertical modulation. By making it a little more mono on LF stuff it actually fills better and the audible difference is minimal…

… Well there is a difference cutting for the audiophile market and the mass market. I have to take precautions on non audiophile stuff to make sure it will track on lesser systems. I use a limiter/compressor very very occasionally. Every so often vocal peaks get out of hand in rock and pop stuff and it id preferable to do a couple db of limiting instead of turning the whole song down


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